Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

September 5, 2017

Several Black Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio polyxenes) were spotted on 30 August 20017 during a photowalk along Deephole Point Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

The following individual is a male. All of the Black Swallowtails that I observed seemed to be quite skittish, including this guy. He flew away every time I approached him slowly. I noticed that he returned to nearly the same spot after a lot of fluttering around, so I moved to a position from which I could shoot his photo without moving.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/8 | 1/800s | -3 ev

Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation is your friend when shooting high-contrast subjects like this Black Swallowtail. It is usually possible to pull detail from underexposed shadows. On the other hand, detail is lost when the highlights are “blown out.” What’s the solution? Expose for the shadows and use exposure compensation to capture detail in the highlights.

Related Resource: The exposure triangle and exposure compensation

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Big Bluet damselfly (mating pairs)

September 3, 2017

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) were spotted on 30 August 2017 during a photowalk along Deephole Point Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

A mating pair of Big Bluet was spotted “in heart.” The male is on the upper-right; the female on the lower-left.

30 AUG 2017 | OBNWR | Big Bluet (mating pair, “in heart“)

Big Bluet females are polymorphic, including a blue morph and brown morph. The female in this mating pair is a blue andromorph.

30 AUG 2017 | OBNWR | Big Bluet (mating pair, “in heart“)

I photographed the following male because he was perching at the right height for me to take the shot while standing. I took one photo before he flew to another perch, closer to the ground.

30 AUG 2017 | OBNWR | Big Bluet (male)

As it turns out, the single male led me to another mating pair of Big Bluet that I hadn’t noticed!

30 AUG 2017 | OBNWR | Big Bluet (mating pair, “in heart“)

The female in the preceding mating pair is a brown heteromorph. Color is a highly variable field marker, and describing color is subjective. In my experience, the heteromorph female Big Bluets native to Northern Virginia are light tan to light olive drab in color.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Adios Mochacho!

September 1, 2017

Mocha Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora linearis) was spotted along a small creek at a remote location in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and hamules.

The Dragonflies of Northern Virginia Calendar of Flight Periods by Kevin Munroe, former manager at Huntley Meadows Park, shows the adult flight period for Mocha Emerald is from the second week in June through mid-September.

In my experience, July is prime time for Mocha Emerald in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. I spotted many Mochas during a visit to the same location during the second week in July. In contrast, the male featured in this post was the only Mocha Emerald spotted during an intense search along the stream. So it may be time to say “Adios Mocha-cho — see you next year!”

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another mature female skimmer

August 30, 2017

As I mentioned in my last two blog posts (see Related Resources, below), most of the Skimmer dragonflies (Family Libellulidae) spotted during a recent photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park looked old and tattered.

24 AUG 2017 | HMP | Blue Dasher (mature female)

This individual is a mature female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), as indicated by her terminal appendages, discolored abdomen, and tattered wings.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Aging gracefully, revisited

August 28, 2017

Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) was spotted near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature female, as indicated by her terminal appendages, discolored abdomen, and tattered wings.

Female Great Blue Skimmers have a pair of flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment that are used to scoop and hold a few drops of water when laying eggs (oviposition), hence the family name “Skimmer.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Aging gracefully

August 26, 2017

Seems like yesterday all of the Skimmer dragonflies (Family Libellulidae) were young and vibrant; now most of them look old and tattered.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) was spotted near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male, as indicated by his terminal appendages, discolored abdomen, and tattered wings.

This male has mated many times, as indicated by the scratches on his abdomen.

Males that have mated often have marks on their abdomen where the female legs have scratched them. This is especially obvious in species in which males develop pruinosity, as the pruinosity on the midabdomen is scratched off, and the signs are visible at some distance. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 390-392). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Reflections on life

Aging gracefully. Yep, that’s my goal. Sometimes I think I’m down with the plan; sometimes I feel more like this dragonfly looks — old and tattered! Having celebrated another birthday recently, it was impossible for me to avoid looking at this dragonfly as a metaphor for my life. Although it’s undeniably true that I’m closer to the end of the road of life than the beginning, I’m happy to be “still on the right side of the grass,” as one of my British friends said soon after life-saving surgery.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Before and After

August 24, 2017

On Saturday, 25 January 2014, I had the honor of co-presenting a program called “Flying Dragons” with Kevin Munroe, former Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park. Kevin invited me to talk about how to make the transition from a beginner- to intermediate/advanced-intermediate dragonfly hunter. I prepared a photoblog post related to my part of the program, called “Five steps to the next level of dragonfly spotting.” Step 1 is as follows.

Step 1. Be aware the same species of dragonfly may appear differently depending upon gender, age, and natural variation. Some species display sexual dimorphism; in contrast, both genders look virtually identical for some species. Finally, females of some species display polymorphism (also known as polychromatism).

Male Needham’s Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula needhami) look different depending upon age, as shown by the “Before” and “After” photos (below). Further, immature male Needham’s Skimmers look similar to immature/mature females of the same species. Although this might be confusing for a beginner dragonfly hunter, with patience and persistence everything falls into place relatively quickly.

Before

Male Needham’s Skimmers were photographed during photowalks at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA in late-June and again in late-July. Notice the dramatic difference in appearance of the same species of dragonfly.

After

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Exuviart

August 22, 2017

Regular readers of my blog remember when I coined the term “Odonart” and created an “Odonart Portfolio.”

I just coined a new term: “Exuviart.” Exuviart is a concatenation of two words: exuvia; and art. The following photographs are the first additions to the Exuviart wing of my Odonart Portfolio.


Unpublished Photo

An Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) exuvia, from the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers), was collected from the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Whenever possible, I like to collect exuviae along with some of the vegetation that was the site for emergence. The vegetation helps to show scale. In this case, the small specimen is approximately 1.4 cm (~0.6″) in length and approximately 0.6 cm (~0.2″) in maximum width. I like the way the desiccated leaf retained its color and gained a velvety texture.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot the preceding photograph: Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR; Canon EF100mm f/2.8 Macro lens plus Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter; Canon 580EX II Speedlite; Canon 580EX Speedlite; and a coiled six-foot Vello Off-Camera TTL Flash Cord for Canon Cameras. The specimen was staged on a piece of white plastic (12″ square, matte finish).


Published Photos

A Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) exuvia, from the Family Aeshnidae (Darners), was collected at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area (MRA), Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot the preceding photograph: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); Canon 580EX II external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; Canon 580EX external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; and a Yongnuo YN-622C-TX E-TTL II Wireless Flash Controller for Canon plus a two-pack of Yongnuo YN-622C II E-TTL Wireless Flash Transceivers for Canon.


A Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphurus vastus) exuvia, from the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails), was collected at Riverbend Park with permission from park staff.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot the preceding photograph: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus) plus a Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tube and Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter; Canon 580EX II external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; Canon 580EX external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; and a Yongnuo YN-622C-TX E-TTL II Wireless Flash Controller for Canon plus a two-pack of Yongnuo YN-622C II E-TTL Wireless Flash Transceivers for Canon.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Powdered Dancer (males, female)

August 20, 2017

A Powdered Dancer damselfly (Argia moesta) was spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size rocky stream in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. There is a whitish-blue morph female Powdered Dancer, therefore the male’s whitish-blue coloration is insufficient to identify its gender.

21 JUN 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Powdered Dancer (male)

A week later, a mating pair of Powdered Dancers was spotted along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is “in tandem“: the male is on the upper-left; the female on the lower-right.

28 JUN 2017 | Riverbend Park | Powdered Dancers (mating pair, in tandem)

The male is “contact guarding” the female as the pair flies “in tandem” to egg-laying sites where the female uses her ovipositor to insert eggs into vegetation (endophytic oviposition).

It’s helpful to take photos of mating pairs of damselflies, especially “in tandem,” since males and females of the same species can look quite different.

Female Powdered Dancers are polymorphic, including a whitish-blue andromorph and a brown heteromorph. The brown morph, shown in this pair, is more common than whitish-blue.

28 JUN 2017 | Riverbend Park | Powdered Dancers (mating pair, in tandem)

Did you notice the male Stream Bluet damselfly (Enallagma exsulans) perching near the Powdered Dancers? Thanks to Karen Kearney and Michael Boatwright, members of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for confirming my tentative identification of the Stream Bluet.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blue-fronted Dancer (male, female)

August 18, 2017

Many Blue-fronted Dancer damselflies (Argia apicalis) were spotted along Bull Run, Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Male

The first individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages.

21 JUN 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Blue-fronted Dancer (male)

There is a blue morph female Blue-fronted Dancer, therefore the male’s blue coloration is insufficient to identify its gender.

21 JUN 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Blue-fronted Dancer (male)

Female

Female Blue-fronted Dancers are polymorphic, including a blue andromorph and a brown heteromorph, shown below. Thanks to Ken Larsen, member of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for help in identifying this individual.

21 JUN 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Blue-fronted Dancer (heteromorph female)

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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